No Front Line in Sight: Reporting on Merrill's Marauders
With the upcoming publication of the second module of Service Newspapers of World War Two, we find a report in Yank: The Army Newspaper from Sgt. Dave Richardson. Richardson spent over three months in the dense Burmese jungle fighting alongside men of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). This unit, more commonly known as Merrillâ€™s Marauders after their Brigadier General Frank Merrill, was the first American unit to engage the Japanese on the Asian continent.
The unit was formed in 1943 with the specific intention of being a long-range penetration unit, similar in style to the British Chindits. The unit served under the Northern Combat Area Command and was comprised completely of volunteers and organised into three battalions. These were then subdivided into 6 self-contained combat teams, each with a colour designation.
The Marauders utilised light infantry tactics, aiming to avoid pitched battles, in order to offset the fact that they were always outnumbered and could not receive reinforcements. They would penetrate far behind enemy lines, cut off Japanese supplies, isolate enemy units and attack patrols. They never sought to destroy enemy forces, only to sow destruction.
The armaments of the Marauders favoured this kind of engagement. Travelling light, through dense jungle, the men had no motor transport, being provided with mules. Due to this the heaviest equipment they could take were 60mm mortars and bazookas. This limited the defensive capabilities of the unit, but their offensive capabilities were furthered with an increased proportion of automatic weapons. These weapons, with a high rate of fire, could go some way to negating the fact that in every engagement the Marauders were outnumbered.
By 1944 the Marauders were ready. Just over 2000 of them began a 1000-mile march over the Patkai range into Burma. Operating deep behind the Japanese front, the Marauders carried out their mission objectives of sowing distribution, striking out of nowhere and then disappearing again.
The final mission for the Marauders was to launch a surprise attack on Myitkyina airfield and seize it from the Japanese. During the march, the Marauders were plagued with malnourishment due to inadequate rations and disease from the tropical conditions. On route, the Marauders found themselves under constant attack from Japanese forces. Despite inadequate defensive weapons they managed to break every Japanese assault launched at them.
With support from elements of the Chinese X Force, the airfield was taken by surprise on the 17th May and fell the same day. The nearby town at Myitkyina, recently reinforced with just under 5000 Japanese soldiers, proved a trickier task, and did not fall for another three months. The situation was not helped with the onset of the monsoon season.
By the end of their operations only 200 of the original Marauders that had marched into Burma were present when Myitkyina finally fell, and all but two men had been wounded or hospitalised due to illness.
Sgt. Dave Richardson, in his article, offers a valuable insight into the lives of these men, the gruelling work they carried out and the constant danger they faced.